(After you read this article read the reporter's gracious respnse)

Misreporting in Idaho

The Idaho Statesman here on the edges of Mormondom routinely bends over backwards to cater to its Mormon readership. That is remarkable when you consider the fact that Mormonism supposedly represents only 14% of the local population (a statistic I doubtI think it is higher than that).

Nevertheless, on Tuesday, October 1, 2002, a front-page headline read "Valleys Religious flock to Mormon, Catholic faiths."

Below I have reprinted the email I sent to the author of the article challenging her use of that headline while the body of the story deemed to indicate that Mormon populations numbers never exceeded the overall growth of the regions population.

Following my email is the full text of the story

Ms. Wolf

I find a real conflict between the headline "Valley's religious flock to Mormon, Catholic faiths" when, later in the story, you document that the Mormon Church has grown at exactly the same growth rate of the general population. Catholicism, on the other hand has apparently grown twice as fast as the population. That might indicate "flocking." But if a denomination doubles in an area when the population doubles, that is merely "keeping up." Granted, some denominations did not keep up and you accurately reported that. But the headline sure misrepresents the text.

As an old newspaperman, I know that the headline may have been written by someone other than yourself. But don't you _look_ at those headlines?

Interestingly enough, the Mormon Church itself characteristically over represents its population. The Deseret News 1999-2000 Church Almanac places the US Mormon population a million higher than the Glenmary Research Center.

Jim Spencer

Through the Maze Ministries


Population boom, troubled times boost church membership

By Carissa Wolf

The Idaho Statesman

Gwynne Chandler's 12-year-olddaughter inspired her Boise family to join the Mormon Church last week.

A cross-country move prompted the Townsend family to establish new ties at a local church.

And for Henry Elzinga, becoming a Catholic this year was part of a spiritual journey that began almost a quarter-century ago. "I didn't do this overnight," the Boise physician said. "I felt called."

Elzinga, the Townsends and the Chandlers are among tens of thousands of people who have planted religious roots in the Treasure Valley during the past decade. They represent the kinds of newcomers and converts who helped the Mormon and Catholic faiths become the region's fastest-growing denominations.

While Catholic and Mormon populations in Ada and Canyon counties grew dramatically in the 1990s, non-evangelical Protestant denominations' stayed mostly flat or even lost members, according to a recent study by a Catholic research group. Nationwide and locally, evangelical denominations also showed strong growth.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints grew faster than any other denomination in the nation during the 1990sby about 19 percent to about 4.2 million) members the Glenmary Research Center estimated. In the Treasure Valley, the Mormon population grew from 43,938 members in 1990 to 64,129 members in 2000. That's 46 percent, exactly the rate of growth for the valley's population overall in the '90s.

The fastest-growing faith in the Treasure Valley in the '90s was the Catholic Church, which more than doubled to 51,097 members in 2000.

Nationally, Idaho ranked 40th out of the 50 states in the number of residentsat 48.5 percentwho consider themselves members of a major religious denomination, according to the survey.

The survey showed shifts in church memberships but not an increase in the number of people who consider themselves religious, [said] Robert Corbin, assistant professor of sociology at Boise State University.

"If you look at Christianity in the United States, it's about where it was 100 years ago in terms of proportion," Corbin said "If these churches are growing, it means one of two things ~ that people who grew up in the church are coming back, or they're converting people from other Christian religions.

"Corbin said theory suggests that already large religious groups will grow, simply because people get their ideas about religion from other religious people. "We do get our perceptions of the world in part from other people," Corbin said. "If my ideas are shared with other people, I'm more convinced my ideas are right."

An overall population boom

The Mormon and Catholic churches credit much of their membership growth in Ada and Canyon counties to the valley's overall population boom in the1990s. According to Census 2000, Ada and Canyon counties' combined population grew 46 percentfrom 295,851 in 1990 to 432,345 in 2000.

When Judy and Michael Townsend decided to retire in Boise from the Phoenix area last year, after visiting since the mid 1990s, the long-time Catholics went shopping for a new church they liked, not a new religion.

"People are coming from other parts of the country with large populations, and those large populations often have a large percentage of Catholics," said Father Joseph da Silva, a priest at Risen Christ Catholic Community.

The Townsends found what they were looking for in da Silva's small, South Boise church."

We picked Risen Christ because it's three miles from where we live and we really like Father da Silva. That has a lot to do with choosing a church," Townsend said.

Catholic Church leaders also said an increase in the number of Hispanics in the Treasure Valley has helped boost membership.

About 95 percent of Hispanic newcomers are Catholic, estimated Jerald Pera, a deacon at Holly Apostles Catholic Church in Meridian. Area churches have added Spanish-language masses and Spanish-speaking administrators, Pera noted.

"We want to be of service, and (we want them in the Church." he said.

A tonic in a troubled world

While population growth explains some of the Catholic membership increase, church leaders said a changing political and economic climate also accounts for the increase in religious membership. People are cognizant of worldwide problems, such as a slow economy, famine and war, said Colette Cowman, communication director for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Boise.

"The state of the world makes people think about spirituality. They're thinking about their own mortality," Cowman said. "They want to know where they stand with God."

Troubled times coupled with missionary efforts likely boosted LDS membership, said Gary Walker, a spokesman and former bishop of the Mormon Church in Idaho.

"I think when people are troubled by the world around them, our message of hope is important," Walker said.

That message and strong family values led the Chandler family to. join the Mormon Church.

For years, the family skipped from one denomination to another, attending Episcopal, Presbyterian, Lutheran and Catholic churches. The family didn't make a commitment to a church until their daughter, Katie, urged her parents to join the LDS faith.

The church is kid-friendly and family-oriented, said Katie's momGwynne Chandler.

"Quite a few of her friends are LDS," Gwynne Chandler said. They're people we're impressed with. Both the kids and their parents."

At their daughter's urging, the Chandlers invited LDS missionaries to their home. After hearing their message, the entire Chandler familyincluding James, the father, and Katie's 8-year-old brother, Samdecided to join the church. Last week, the family was baptized.

For Henry Elzinga, a 24-year-long spiritual journey brought him to the Catholic Church this year.

In 1978, Elzinga began serving the poor as a volunteer with the Catholic Workers, a Catholic charity organization.

Elzinga said the compassion and service ethic among the Catholics he met made him re-examine his own life and purpose.

"It prompted a change in the direction of my life," said Elzinga, a physician at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Boise. Elzinga bounced from church to church for more than two decades. It wasn't until Easter of this year that he committed to becoming a Catholic through the sacrament of confirmation.

"It was a long journey, but I felt like I needed to own that spirituality," he said.

Protestant churches decline

While Mormons and Catholics saw large Treasure Valley membership gains in the 1990s, other religions suffered significant losses, the Glenmary report showsespecially traditionally urban Protestant churches.

The Glenmary Research Center, which has collected religious census data every 10 years since1971, reported the Presbyterian Church was among the Protestant denominations posting a significant loss in membership, both nationally and locally. Nationwide Presbyterian membership dropped by nearly 12 percent in the 1990s. (n Boise, the denomination lost more than 200 of its 3,575 members in that period, according to the survey.

The Presbyterian Church, whose missionary efforts tend to be less evangelical and more humanitarian, may have lost members because of social shifts, said JoAnn Thiry, commissioned lay pastor at the First Presbyterian of Boise.

"Fifty years ago, people went to church out of a sense of duty," she 4aid. "That has changed. The social climate has changed. Now people attend church because they want to."

She said growing suburban populations also could account for the decline. Many Presbyterian churches are in downtown areas she said. The First Presbyterian Church in downtown Boise is growing, she noted.